Leader David Hodge today revealed that Surrey County Council is facing bridging a £54 million funding shortfall to deliver 3,000 extra school places for next September – nearly double the gap plugged this year.
Mr Hodge told a meeting of the Full Council that expected government funding of £30m for the next academic year will be well short of the £84m required to ensure every Surrey child gets a school place.
This financial year the authority had to find £30m on top of government funding to create more than 4,100 additional places for September.
Below is a transcript of his speech (check against delivery).
Chairman, since I became Leader, I have spoken many times in this chamber about the rising demand for school places in Surrey.
Keen to share success – I have stood at this lectern, describing how we have worked against the odds to find increasing numbers of school places each year.
This year is no different – in September we provided 4,138 additional school places – a huge number and ten times what was needed just five years ago.
And I’m keen that we all recognise the immense efforts of colleagues from many services who have acted as ‘One Team’ to deliver these achievements.
Yet today – my speech will strike a different tone.
Although every Surrey child got their school place this year, it was tougher than ever – and I’m not ashamed to say we made it by the skin of our teeth.
And, in truth – I am worried about the future. I am worried about how we ensure that all 3,000 Surrey children will be guaranteed a place next September.
Mr Chairman, all Members will be aware that this huge increase in pressure for school places comes as a result of Surrey’s highest ever birth rate.
To make things even trickier – this rise has not been consistent across the county – meaning that the pressure in some areas is even greater.
Overall, we predict that 13,000 extra school places are needed over the next five years.
That’s the equivalent of 30 new primary schools.
Although, in reality, it’s not just primary schools we need.
We are starting to feel pressure in every part of the system – from nursery schools to sixth form.
In fact, in 2015, you’ll notice the growth in demand really beginning to hit our secondary schools.
And of course – as if building extra classrooms wasn’t hard enough – with the secondary sector we also need to think about expanding science labs, IT rooms and gym facilities too.
All of which makes expanding a secondary school far more complex, not to mention expensive, than expanding a primary school.
So – what are we doing about it?
Up until now, we’ve been accommodating most of this increased demand by expanding our existing schools.
But space around school sites, particularly in more urban areas such as Woking, is quickly becoming saturated. Put simply – we are running out of room.
What we now need is new schools, not just new classrooms.
Chairman, Members can be assured that our property officers are working flat out to try to identify sites we can acquire for new schools.
However, this is proving to be a challenge, given the high cost and low availability of suitable land in Surrey.
Even when we do find a good site, we still need to obtain the relevant planning permission.
I know that you won’t need me to tell you that this can be a long and complex process.
And it doesn’t even end there!
Because even when we can acquire a suitable site, in the right location
And even when we do obtain the right planning permission –
We are faced with yet another challenge!
When it comes to building schools, rising construction costs combined with limited skills capacity in the UK construction industry is hitting Surrey hard.
In the last few years we have seen some quite eye-watering increases in the cost of building materials and labour:
In fact, since September 2011
- the cost of plasterwork has risen by 41%,
- the cost of blockwork has risen by 50%
- whilst the cost of brickwork has risen by an enormous 96%.
At the same time, in a market where demand currently outstrips supply, skilled labourers such as bricklayers, are becoming increasingly hard to come by.
This means we are constantly competing with a commercial sector that has greater ability to pay more – we’ve even had instances where labourers have been poached from the school sites themselves by contractors on neighbouring building projects.
So the challenges remain – rising demand, complex builds, a shortage of sites, lack of skills labour and spiralling construction costs.
It is clear that when it comes to meeting the demand for school places – our task is getting tougher and tougher.
So what can we do? How can we continue to fulfil our statutory duty of ensuring that every Surrey child has a school place, despite all the challenges that stand in our way?
Well firstly, we need to have the right team in place – one that can work under pressure and to incredibly tight deadlines.
I am confident that we have that team here in Surrey.
In fact, I have been impressed by the way that officers from school commissioning, property, planning, finance, legal and procurement, have come together as ‘One Team’ to implement Surrey’s largest ever school expansion programme.
I know that this is a huge challenge but thanks to their expertise, professionalism and commitment – not a single Surrey child went without a school place this year.
Chairman, I am sure that everyone in this chamber will want to join me in formally thanking all the officers that were involved in this enormous effort.
However, despite my confidence in our fantastic team – alone, they are not enough.
No matter how good the team is, and no matter how well we work with schools – without a fairer funding settlement for school places in Surrey we are in an unsustainable position.
Chairman, let me clearly set out the financial implications Surrey is facing.
The grant funding we’ve received to date has just about enabled the delivery of school places, but it is no longer enough – In 2014/15 the county council has had to invest an additional £30m to ensure that 4,138 Surrey children had a school place in September.
Based on our projections for 2015/16, we will need to invest £84m to deliver an additional 3,000 schools places for September 2015 intake, yet the council is scheduled only to receive £30m in government grant funding!
This means the county council needs a fairer funding settlement from Government of a further £54m to ensure that every Surrey child has a school place in September 2015.
Regrettably, without that £54m of fairer funding we may not be able to guarantee every Surrey child a school place in September 2015.
So Chairman, my ask of Government is simple.
Surrey County Council has made every effort to keep the cost of school places as low as possible.
We have an expert team in place – one that has proved themselves against tight deadlines and significant pressure.
However, the scale of demand means that our funding is simply no longer enough.
We need Government funding for school places to reflect the actual costs of meeting this demand.
For 2015/16 – this would mean £84m.
£84m. This isn’t about Surrey asking for extra money or special treatment.
No – this is about asking for what is actually needed – our fair share of the pot.
Let it not be forgotten that Surrey taxpayers are the largest contributor to the Exchequer of any region outside the City of London yet despite this contribution Surrey continues to receive £66m a year less than the average county council.
- Is it really too much to expect to see some of that investment back in Surrey ?
As the Prime Minister himself said in his recent conference speech, “If you work hard and do the right thing….we say you should keep more of your money to spend as you choose.”
I couldn’t agree more!
Chairman, let me assure Members that as Leader, supported by my Cabinet, I am doing everything I can to ensure that Surrey receives its fair share of funding for school places.
Over the past few months, I have had positive discussions with a number of Surrey MPs on this important issue – and I am confident that they understand the difficulties we are facing.
I was also able to secure a meeting with the Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, to make our case.
Linda Kemeny, Cabinet Member for Schools and Learning and our chief executive attended with me – and I am sure they will agree with me when I say it was an encouraging and constructive meeting.
And, whilst it is not yet known what the outcome of the meeting will be, it is encouraging that Government is starting to listen and opening doors to us and taking Surrey’s case seriously.
It is important that we keep up this momentum – but Linda and I can’t do it alone.
This isn’t about the Leader or Cabinet – this is about all 81 councillors making a difference.
I need the support of each and every one of you to make Surrey’s case.
Whether it is through the local media or through meetings with your local MP – it is absolutely vital that we all keep banging the same drum, to ensure our voice is heard.
With your support, I am hopeful that Government will acknowledge the pressure we are under and fund us accordingly for school places.
However, it is becoming increasingly clear that – no matter what happens between now and February 2015, there will be no easy choices when setting next year’s budget.
Even if we receive fairer funding for school places – we will still be left with significant pressures in other areas – such as elderly care, roads maintenance or replacing damage from flooding.
We need to acknowledge that we simply won’t be able to continue delivering services in the same way that we do today.
Again – I hope that I can count on your support and understanding as we try to tackle some of these difficult decisions in our budget discussions over the next few months.
Select committees, as always, will be vital to the process of helping shape the budget – so let me stress, once again, how much I value the time and effort that Members dedicate to their scrutiny roles.
Chairman, to conclude, I am sure that Members will agree with me, when I say that it is a great privilege and a great honour to represent our communities as a county councillor.
But with this privilege also comes a great sense of responsibility and duty to the residents we represent.
As Leader. I take this duty incredibly seriously – that’s why I wanted to clearly set out my concerns today regarding the significant and un-sustainable shortfalls in our funding for school places.
With my Cabinet, I will continue to do all I can to lobby Government for a fairer funding settlement for school places in Surrey.
I trust that I can count on the support of every Member in this chamber – as well as the continuing support of our Surrey MPs, to ensure that every Surrey child can have a school place in September 2015.
Working as ‘One Team’ I am hopeful that we can achieve a positive outcome for Surrey residents.
To ensure that each and every child in Surrey continues to have a place in school and the opportunity to a first class Surrey education.
The residents of Surrey are, and will always be, my number one priority.